By Ken Sexton
As a result of the grassroots popularity of renewable energy, there has been in both the U.S. and world markets an increase in individual country tax policy, tax incentives and government regulation that directly support renewable energy, with solar far ahead of other energy sources. In 2009, the solar industry in the U.S. created almost 20,000 new jobs and added 470 MW of generating capacity. Growth in 2010 is expected to increase by 100% creating upwards of 45,000 new jobs. And, with the continuation of tax incentives and other investment by government, the future for the solar industry looks promising with Asia, Europe and the U.S., all expected to experience continued strong growth over the next 5 years. Long-term prospects for the industry will be dependant in large part on continued government tax incentives worldwide and, in the U.S., in the defining of a national renewable energy standard for utility companies. Such a standard would define and require utility companies to generate a portion of their electricity utilizing renewable sources. Currently, individual states are leading in this area, with California being the example by requiring 20% of energy production to come from renewable sources by the end of 2010 and 33% by 2020.
Reducing High Initial Investment
One of the biggest disadvantages to solar energy is the high initial investment. However, a number of factors are converging to significantly reduce this barrier. As solar generating capacity increases and demand in solar energy continues to be strong, the cost of installed photovoltaic systems continues to drop at an accelerated rate. The declining cost has averaged 4% per year over the past 15 years, but more dramatic is what has happened in the past 18 months as a result in increased capacity in PV panel production and the economic slowdown over this period. In the middle of 2008, an installed 5 kW system in California averaged US$22,000. By the end of 2009, the cost of that same system had dropped to US$16,000... a 27% decrease. In addition to this, industry analysts expect a further reduction to US$13,000 by the end of 2010... an additional 19% in 12 months. And, when balanced against the trend of traditional utilities where rates have increased every year for the past 20 years, once a PV system is installed, it will produce electricity for no further cost until system components need to be replaced, typically after a 20 year warranty. Still, this high initial cost is prohibitive to many. Some local governments are testing innovative financing arrangements whereby they make the initial investment in the installation cost and allow property owners to pay the investment off over 20 years at a rate equal to the annual savings realized by the reduced electrical bills. This win/win arrangement gives the homeowner a free installation at a net zero cost for the local government. As this financial barrier is breached and acceptance of these financial arrangements grows, it is anticipated that the pent up demand for solar energy will virtually explode.
Currently, the solar market is wide open with demand for tracking systems greatly outpacing the supply. Because solar energy provides less than 1% of the world¡¯s total energy and about 0.01% of the electric energy in the U.S., demand for solar power will remain high for years to come.
Patriot Solar Group is striving to become one of the most recognized brands of heavy-duty solar trackers in the solar industry. Its product line has evolved into a broad range of solar tracking systems, pole mount systems and a complete line of distribution solar products designed for easy and quick installations.
The company¡¯s primary market is distributed electrical generation. Distributed electric generation is basically decentralized generation from many small energy generating sources. The typical size of a distributed electrical system is 3.0 kW up to 10,000 kW. Many electric utilities are encouraging this type of energy generation utilizing ¡®feedback¡¯ systems with special incentives and pricing for energy generated using renewable systems. Driven in large part by government mandates, market demand for renewable energy products supporting distributed electric generation have increased dramatically over the past two years. Currently, 29 states in the U.S. have renewable energy standards (requirements that a set percentage of electrical energy will come from renewable sources) and 14 of those states have specific distributed generation provisions. An additional 5 states have renewable energy ¡®goals¡¯.
Distributed electrical generation is by far the largest market in the U.S. currently and is projected to continue to be for the next decade as electric utilities focus on meeting the renewable energy mandates. The product of choice for these systems¡¯ Single axis horizontal trackers.
The secondary market the company is focused on is foreign country investments in solar energy. A great many foreign governments are moving ahead with large scale solar electric generating programs. This trend is happening for three main reasons:
1) To replace outdated and poorly maintained traditional generating facilities (coal and/or natural gas mainly),
2) To meet vigorously growing demands as countries become more industrialized and/or move into more information and technology driven economies,
3) As a way to meet green house gas emission reduction obligations agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol.
Also, there is a current untapped market opportunity:
1) Demand in the solar mount market far exceeds existing supply, especially in the U.S. where there are few domestic manufacturers,
2) Existing providers are specialized to specific applications such as only roof mounts or only ground mounts,
3) The movement in the industry towards greater tracking precision controls will greatly serve the needs of the new CPV and Stirling engine technologies that are beginning to gain more widespread acceptance in the industry.
Technology and Products
The company is able to compete in the solar market on all of these factors. Its innovative modular rail system allows for virtually any solar panel to be utilized in our installations. This pulls the cost factor for the PV panels out of the equation for costing purposes and allows us the option to choose lower cost panels than our competitors without affecting the design of the entire system. Additionally, the company¡¯s advanced technology in tracking systems allows for greater productivity of a given deployment which translates directly into higher returns on the same nominal PV panel investment. Controllers for dual axis trackers are programmed for a given installations specific longitude and latitude to fully compensate for the suns unique orbital patterns and obtain the highest levels of efficiency and performance currently available.
The in-house design capability, engineering support and strong customer service focus allows to assist the customer in overcoming a wide range of deployment issues. Whether these are site specific physical limitations or technological in nature, it can configure or design a cost effective solution that will meet or exceed the customer¡¯s expectations.
And, while all solar industry companies will benefit from governmental tax credit and rebate programs, the company, being one of the few U.S.-based manufacturers of mounting systems, is poised to benefit immensely from both U.S. and State of Michigan local content requirements.
As part of Ontario¡¯s Standard Offer Program, planned solar electrical generating capacity of over 1.3 GW has already been awarded, with a total planned capacity of 2.5 GW for all ¡®green¡¯ forms of power generation. The program will extend over several years and incorporates annual, increasing local content regulations. With our proximity to Ontario, it is in an ideal position to capitalize on this program and is already making arrangements to meet the local content requirements throughout the life of the program.
Finally the robust, low maintenance design and quality materials used the tracking system will ensure long life and low costs over the life of the installation. This ¡®deployment life cost¡¯ as opposed to simple ¡®installment cost¡¯ is being factored in more and more by investors evaluating the entire return on investment analysis.
Over the past couple of years, the company has designed and produced several prototype trough and parabolic dish collectors including a parabolic reflective water-heating solar concentrator dish, prototype single axis and dual axis solar tracking systems, prototype single axis horizontal tracking systems, and also completed its first prototype ultra-efficient floodlight. The company conducted preliminary tests and measured the actual performance of these initial designs. The technology employed was proven valid and the tested units performed within the specification boundaries as expected. The designs were reviewed and fine-tuned to make them production friendly and all documentation was completed, reviewed, and approved.
Based on these prototype units, the company currently has several product lines designed and in ready to market condition including:
-Two horizontal PV Systems
- Pole-mounted Systems in both fixed axis and dual axis configurations
- Ground-mount Systems
Current products will support PV (photovoltaic) and CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) modules ranging in size from 1.5 kW to 10.0 kW, these systems are ideal for residential and single unit installations, plus, when linked together to form multi-unit arrays (farms), these systems are easily capable of supplying small business needs or commercial electric utility feedback systems. And, while current products are designed mainly to support PV and CPV markets, these mounting systems are easily adaptable to other solar markets including:
-Solar Hybrid lighting
Adding tracking capability to any of these solar applications would increase efficiency of the individual units by up to 42%.
Ken Sexton is responsible for Patriot Solar Group¡¯s core corporate organizations that support all areas of the business, including research and development, information management, human resources and ethics, marketing and communications, and Patriot¡¯s environmental health and safety initiatives (www.patriotsolargroup.com).
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